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Life as a Widow

by MISSY BEATTIE

I bought a bike.

I bought this bike that I mount and ride fast down the road that winds to the shops in my condo community.  My children say, “Be careful.” I laugh.

“Do Not Resuscitate,” I tell them.

A few weeks ago, out on my Breezer and imagining I might take flight, I was exhilarated.  Until that label I carry intruded.  Widow. My wedding anniversary was approaching (would be 35 years).  Suddenly, I felt oxygen deprived.  I say this metaphorically.  Because I have too much energy.  And after pedaling up the hill, I entered the apartment, brailing my way through things that were supposed to be familiar.

Finally, I decided to try another round of grief therapy.  I called my insurance provider and asked for names of therapists in the area.  Tried the first on the list and heard, “The number you have reached is no longer in service…” I shaped my right hand into a gun, pointed it at my temple, and vocalized a shooting sound.

Later, sister Laura told me her physician recommended someone who accepted my insurance.  Someone named Gene.  A woman named Gene.  I called the phone number, wondering about this Gene, thinking the feminine would be Jean.

At the appointed time, I sat in the reception area, waiting and wanting to escape. A coffee table centered the area.  Oriental rugs covered the floor.  But the ceiling seemed to descend; the lights appeared to dim.

And as that room became darker and smaller, so did I, until I noticed someone walking towards the area where I was sitting, a tall, extremely masculine woman. I suspected she was transgendered. Yes, I’ve seen so many of the movies (favorite is the documentary, Paris is Burning).

Memory interlude:  Years ago, when my husband Charles and I were living in Nashville, we invited his slightly homophobic cousin and her more-than-slightly homophobic husband to visit for a Vanderbilt-University of Kentucky basketball game.  We decided to put Paris is Burning in the VCR after dinner one evening.  The next day, as our guests departed, hugging us goodbye, thanking us for the tickets to the game, and the hospitality, she said, “We even liked that QUEER movie.”  Charles and I laughed about this for years.

Back to therapy:  Gene—a woman, named Gene.  I was certain this masculine woman would be my counselor, and I was pleased.

I heard my name called.  By Jean, a very feminine female.  Laura’s doctor was correct with the pronunciation, not the spelling.  And, so, I entered Jean’s office for a mutual audition or something.   At the end of the hour, she said, “You use high comedy as a defense mechanism.”  And, then, “Are you comfortable coming back?”  I told her yes.

Later, at home, I thought:  I am a widow.   I will be a widow for the rest of my life.

I powered the laptop, going to Google and entering “widows”. There are more than 11 million in the United States.  On one site, I read:  “Widows mourn; widowers replace.”  My defense mechanism engaged its gears as I thought about the men I know who are my age and searching for someone 20 to 25 years younger.

I have no interest in remarrying.  There’s just no point.

But there is a point.

Being a widow is complicated.  Everywhere I look, I see couples.  Young and old.  The other day, when I was walking down the hill (the one that’s now my runway), I saw an elderly twosome, sitting on a bench, their bodies leaning together for maximum contact.  Had they been teenagers, someone might have said, “Get a room.”

And, so, as the fourth anniversary of my husband’s death nears, I’ve been writing the sadness.  Pouring it to the screen and printing.  I take some of this to “Memoirs” class, which I’ve been asked to instruct next fall.  My classmates like what they call “the honesty of my words” and that I hang my emotions off the ledge.

This week, I included these two paragraphs in the body of my composition:

I move away, push back my chair, and cup the face that doesn’t feel like mine in hands that seem foreign.  I touch eyebrows, push them up, then down, to be sure they move, and, then, I rub my cheeks as if to ask whose cheeks these are.

I think that this face is the surface of a clock, timing whatever it is that’s left—the minutes in a day, the days in a week, the weeks in a month, until a year has passed, two, three, four.  Who started that rumor that time heals?  Time is just a ticker of tocks and trickling tears for the bereaved, balancing weights and waiting for what’s next.

Yes, I can be miserable.

But I’m fortunate.  I’ve examined world stats and learned that there are approximately 245 million widows.  Many, whose titles were bestowed by war, are between the ages of twenty and thirty.  They have young children to raise alone, often in poverty.

So there.  I’m lucky.  I say this over and over.  “I’m lucky.” Each morning, I awaken to another day of choices:  one is the decision to have a big, wonderful life.  I can.  I know I can, as I proceed to what’s next.

Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Email: missybeat@gmail.com

 

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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